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Coming together on Christmas: Bethel Lutheran Church hosts 34th annual Community Christmas Dinner

BEMIDJI - A handwritten note tacked on a Minnesota Food Share poster reminds people of what the Christmas season is truly about as they entered the 34th annual Community Christmas Dinner held at Bethel Lutheran Church in Bemidji on Wednesday.

The note included canned soups, peanut butter, canned meats, hot and cold cereals and canned beans as items needed at the Bemidji Community Food Shelf.

Patrick and Marci Plemel are co-chairing the committee that organizes community church dinners. This is their first year chairing and hosting the Christmas dinner.

"We want to share the joy and spirit of Christmas," Marci Plemel said. "It's not about getting. It's about giving."

Plemel said the first Community Christmas Dinner was also held at the Bethel Lutheran Church. Churches rotate as host sites each year. The committee just wrapped up its Thanksgiving dinner.

"After Thanksgiving, it was fast and furious to get the Christmas dinner planned," Plemel said.

An estimated 500 people are anticipated each year for the Christmas meal. The final count for 2013 was at least 415. Plemel said Thanksgiving tends to draw a larger crowd.

Attendees of the Christmas meal overflowed the Bethel Lutheran Church's parking lot before 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, with cars parked along the driveway. The feast started at noon and concluded at 1:30 p.m.

"As long as there's food, we'll serve it," Plemel said.

Food is mostly donated for the dinner, but some is purchased with donated funds. Plemel said Thrivent Financial recently made a donation that helped greatly in 2013.

Approximately 140 volunteers donated their time to serve ham dinner plates and greet visitors during the event.

An estimated 120 dinners were delivered to those who could not make it to the church.

"We'd rather bring people in than serve at home," Plemel said. "It's not about the food. It's fellowship."

Volunteers Vicki Polich and Teresa Estes agreed the dinner is a great way to mingle with people in the community. Polich and Estes both recently moved to Bemidji.

People without transportation are given the opportunity to call ahead for a ride.

If any food is left over from the dinner, it is usually donated to Servants of Shelter, the Bemidji Soup Kitchen, Hope House or Peoples Church. Plemel emphasized, however, the dinner is not only for homeless and low-income people.

An Easter meal used to be in the rotation but has not been done in recent years. Plemel said the committee would consider adding Easter if it was seen as a need in the community.

The committee consists of six core members and is currently seeking additional members.

If you are interested, e-mail Plemel at


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